Friday, February 26, 2010

The Missionary Impulse?

This op-ed by Timothy Egan in the NY Times raises legitimate and important questions about the ill-fated plans of the so-called "Kidnapping for Jesus" case of Laura Silsby. At best, her plans to facilitate adoptions from the beleaguered country of Haiti were naive and unrealistic, given her resources. At worst, they were manipulative and opportunistic.

Yet painting with the broad brush of "cultural imperialism" the author succumbs to tired romantic liberal sentiment. The "noble savage" and his pristine untouched culture and religion should not be disturbed, in this ideology. Yet this ignores many indigenous practices most would consider not so pristine--like "sati"--the burning of widows in Hinduism, or "FGM" (female genital mutilation) in tribal cultures of Asia and Africa. Does Mr. Egan claim "cultural imperialism" when the World Health organization and the UN bans FGM in their work?

As I take a team of students to New York City to express care and concern for those in less fortunate circumstances, this story takes on new meaning. What gives us the right to impose our beliefs on others? Is the "missionary impulse" inherently culturally violent?
Some suggest that the "mini-messiahs" who descend upon poorer areas would do better to stay home and send their money to help the truly informed make a real difference. Are we on a fool's errand?

First, one cannot ignore the historic context of Western Christianity and the "Crusades." One's faith should be expressed through the heart, not the point of a spear. Christians should remember that their religion spread originally through generosity, service to the poor, and the death of its founders in persecution. Humility is the prerequisite for any missionary. On the flip side, however, it is naive to imagine that any area's "indigenous" culture is in itself pure or undiluted. Rather, they are the result of millennia of interaction and intellectual trade. Mohammed himself was influenced by both Jewish and Christian ideals,while Buddhism was built on a foundation supplied by Hinduism. Is this necessarily imperialism? New York City doesn't need any mini-messiahs... but humble servants, willing to be changed as they share love and practice understanding? That may not be so bad...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not so Fast...National Pancake Day

I'm headed up to New York City Saturday with a team of students and leaders, and I sense that it is going to be a significant time. And all the hip-techno types around me (I'm tragically unhip) tell me I must chronicle this trip with pictures and timely words. So back to my neglected blog.

And something else... a FAST. Yikes. Technically, I'm not supposed to tell you I'm doing that, because Jesus warns religious people like me not to announce their religious activities to others in order to appear more spiritual on the outside than they are on the inside. But the whole reason I'm sharing this is because I DON'T feel particularly spiritual inside right now.

Mostly that's because I'm looking at a stack of PANCAKES Free pancakes Free IHOP Pancakes
It's my wife's fault... (ha bet that one doesn't work) because she sent me with the boys to take advantage of National Pancake Day So there I sit, with tummy rumbling louder than Pooh bear, and a free stack of fluffy hotcakes in front of me. (my Scotch-Irish heritage would not allow me to skip ordering a free stack to take home for the rest of my family). And I begin to say to myself, "Its for a good cause, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society would love for me to eat these pancakes."

"Not so fast," I said to my rationalizing self, "you're on a fast!" All I could smell was batter and syrup. My head was beginning to spin. "What is the big deal about giving up food anyway? God knows we need to eat."

And so I reviewed with my self the whole point... fasting sets apart a time and a person for a special purpose; specifically, God's purpose. Like it says in a record of the early Christians, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Giving up food for a time helps me to focus on the work I have been called to do... in this case, share love and care for homeless and needy individuals in New York City. It reminds me that I am truly dependent on God, though normally I take care of basic needs myself. As my stomach gurgles I determine again to pray, and to set myself apart for God to use. And I vow silently, solemnly, I will celebrate National Pancake Day in my own special way, NEXT WEEK.